Last month at the Human Capital Summit in Singapore, I was chairing a diversity and inclusion panel of senior leaders. When we reached the topic of gender diversity, I felt a strange sense of déjà vu. I suddenly realized that I could predict with fair accuracy the five things the eminent speakers would talk about, the three objections that will come from the audience, the two standard responses, and the one acceptable closing tag line!
No one intends or plans for the conversation to go down the predictable path and yet it does. This repetitive pattern points to the global commonality of issues such as work life integration, mentorship, women on boards and so on. However, I do not wish to elaborate on the pattern here because the aim of Leader_Shift is not to define the pattern but to break out of it.
So keeping in spirit of the column, I want to highlight three under-represented but critical topics on which we need more thinking and action for the women and leadership agenda to move forward. Hopefully, this short checklist might be the catalyst for something larger:
Are you addressing unconscious biases in the system?
Unconscious biases limit the way we manage potential and talent in our organizations. They refer to the unspoken schemas or mental models that influence how we treat individuals based on generalizations about their group. The unconscious biases around gender, work and capabilities continue to persist and seep into the way we recruit, manage and promote talent within the firm. For instance, when I ask managers to define the term: A trailing spouse, 99 per cent respond saying it is a woman who follows her husband’s career around the world.
While this may be the average situation, it should not be allowed to define our perception and in turn influence our actions. As Shawn Achor says if we only study and observe the average, we will merely remain the average. Highlighting and actively removing such biases is a pre-requisite to creating equitable workplaces. An audit of practices to eliminate unconscious bias and an explication and change of attitudes requires more than a statement of vision around gender balanced workplaces
Are you spotlighting the male champion of gender diversity?
The women and leadership agenda is not a women’s problem. It is a talent management, leadership and innovation problem. While we spend time highlighting the women role models in leadership positions, we should also devote some attention to the male mentors, the male leaders who understand the importance of the gender diversity conversation. Olivier Marchal of Bain & Co has been quoted as saying that “in improving gender balance, women may hold the keys, but men generally still control the locks.” Last month, Vineet Nayar (non-executive Chairman of HCL) tweeted about giving away five spots in his highly coveted leadership training program to aspiring women leaders. We can all learn to walk the talk, if we make up our minds to do so. Men hold up half the sky too if I recall correctly.
Are you only asking the women to lean in?
Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, we all know that women need to lean in and persist more into the careers path they choose. However, the act of leaning in cannot be a solitary one. The organization, the family, the men at work must lean in. Lean into what? Lean into creating workplaces and households where biology does not determine your destiny. Why create maternity leave when you can create parental leave? Why offer flexi work only to returning mothers and not to fathers with young children or with parents who need care giving? Corporates have a unique opportunity to help an entire eco-system lean in. The gender diversity conversation represents a unique opportunity space. It is not just about doing the right thing but doing the thing right.